Thursday

2nd Jul 2020

Hungary's new 'consultation' targets old foes

  • Prime minister Viktor Orban (r) earned a rebuttal from the EU Commission for previous such loaded forms of public consultations (Photo: Consilium)

The Hungarian government is launching a new national survey asking citizens if they agree with its battles with the EU over migration, "debt slavery", and measures addressing the coronavirus crisis.

The Hungarian government unveiled a set of 13 questions on Monday (8 June) - ranging from the management of the coronavirus pandemic to migration.

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It is the eighth so-called national consultation, a communication tool the Hungarian government has previously used to rally supporters and dominate the political agenda.

The new survey targets familiar foes of prime minister Viktor Orban's government, such as "Brussels", migrants and Hungarian-born US billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

One preamble to a question states that "Brussels is preparing to attack the rules of the Hungarian constitution on immigration. They want to force us to change the provisions of our basic law prohibiting migration".

Then the question is posed: "Do you agree that the Hungarian government should stick to the rules banning immigration at the cost of an open conflict with Brussels?"

There is no indication which plans or proposals the questions refers to, or which parts of the Hungarian constitution prohibits migration.

Another question deals with the a recent European Court of Justice decision stating that holding asylum seekers at transit zones at Hungary's southern border amounts to "detention" and they should be released.

Hungarian authorities subsequently released asylum-seekers from the transit zones and transferred them to open reception centres.

The survey states that, according to the court's ruling, "migrants must also be allowed into the country at the time of the epidemic", which - it alleges - is part of another plan by Soros to bring a million migrants to the EU.

"Do you agree that the government should continue to take action against immigration and maintain strict protection of the Hungarian border?," the question subsequently asks.

Another issue relates to mitigating the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis.

It claims that Soros proposes that EU member states take out loans in perpetual bonds, adding "experts say this would push nations into debt slavery".

"Do you reject Goerge Soros's plan to indebted Hungary for an unpredictable period of time?," the survey asks.

Soros has in May supported the idea of perpetual bonds, and a Spanish proposal on the EU recovery fund also suggested perpetual debt.

But the EU Commission's proposals on funding the coronavirus recovery efforts did not include perpetual bonds. It includes paying back long-term loans until 2058 "at least".

Orban has previously criticised plans for the commission to take on loans to finance the recovery and for the EU to make a move towards mutualised debt.

The introduction to another question criticises the EU's agency, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and asks citizens whether they agree that Hungary need its own permanent epidemiological monitoring service.

Another question asks if "banks and multinationals should also contribute to the costs of control during the epidemic" without giving any details, while another inquires if "domestic products and domestic services should be encouraged".

The questionnaire is sent to every Hungarian citizen, who are then asked to return their answers by 15 August.

From a total of around 8 million voters, earlier such questionnaires received between 700,000 and 2.5 million responses.

The 2017 'Stop Brussels' consultation

The surveys are meant to get voters' opinions on issues, but previous questionnaires had been criticised for leading, politically-charged questions and having limited answers.

A 2017 consultation called "Stop Brussels" by the Hungarian government earned a detailed rebuttal from the commission.

When asked about the latest survey, a spokesman with the EU executive told EUobserver that "the commission is aware of the new national consultation announced by the Hungarian government and follows the situation closely".

"The current challenges that the EU is facing – whether it is fighting the pandemic, ensuring economic recovery or managing migration – are common challenges. The only way to address them is by working together, in a spirit of cooperation and European solidarity," the spokesperson said, adding that "organising referenda or national consultations is a matter for member states".

Hungary's government said it would hand back the much-criticised emergency powers it was granted during the pandemic.

Civil rights organisations, however, have warned that the bill ending the power to rule by decree is transposing some of the problematic provisions of the original legislation.

As of Tuesday (9 June), 4,017 people had been infected with Covid-19 and 550 died from the disease in Hungary, according to official figures.

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